Wakeman 4. Father Brings a Flour Mill to Town

To set the stage as I start this fourth in the Wakeman series (also described in the first one): this is a description of life in the early 1900s in a small north-central Ohio village.  My mother interviewed and taped my Grandpa Lyle (her father) talking about his early life and recollections.  These interviews took place in February 1985 and February 1986.  Grandpa Lyle was 88 and 89 years old.  I had the tapes transcribed (thank you, Kathy!) and have excerpted stories but left the language pretty much as Grandpa Lyle spoke.  If you want to go back to the first one, it is found here.  The succeeding ones have been posted about once a month after that one.  There was also one earlier post about Grandpa being a foodie before it became popular that was also taken from these interviews.

The elevator business, they called it a grain elevator. It’s where the grain was unloaded and stored. Father also, in connection with that, operated a coal yard where he carried — we had Masseline coal which was a less expensive coal. But that was good for cook stoves. And then they had Jackson coal and there was some smokeless coal, I’ve forgotten the name of it, but we carried several different — coal of several different qualities for heating purposes and then we carried — he got to carrying coke which is a product of the blast furnaces at the steel plants. Coke was valuable as a heating unit, as a heating material. We didn’t sell as much coke as we did of the coal but — oh, yeah, there was anthracite coal or hard coal which people would use in their heating stoves in their living rooms. So we had several varieties of coal that had to be stored. They’d ship it in in carloads and it would be unloaded into bins.

Father had a series of bins built along — incidentally, we had a railroad spur that was, 50% of it was on our, on the Humphrey property that Father had bought and Father really owned half of a railroad switch. The switch would probably hold five or six cars. And that switch went back to a livestock yard that was operated by other people. But they would use that switch to load livestock on certain days of the week. He also handled lake sand for people wanting to make cement, build something, he had a bin that was, he’d order from Sandusky. I remember very well, the Kelly Island, what was it, Kelly Island Lime and Sand Company. They would ship carloads of sand to Wakeman and we would shovel it into the bin. That was sold, so much a hundred pounds, to people who wanted to construct sidewalks or anything that they needed concrete for. He carried a stock of cement. He also carried carloads of oyster shell from Maryland. Oyster shell was in great demand, or it was in steady demand, for poultry, chickens, raising chickens. Everybody raised a few chickens and they all had to have a certain amount of oyster shell or the eggs would be, were so soft shelled that they could not be marketed. And everybody raising chickens would have to buy the oyster shell. That is probably an items that is no longer — I’m sure the companies now that had the large poultry producing areas have their own way of handling that, but in those days, everybody bought a 50 pound bag of oyster shell.

Some years, perhaps ten year or more after he started the mill, I was in about the 7th or 8th grade I believe when Father decided that they needed a flour mill in Wakeman. [This would make it about 1909 or so.] And a friend of his who had formerly owned a flour mill at Clarksfield, south of Wakeman, knew of a mill that had been abandoned down in central Ohio. And he told Father about it. Father went down and looked at it; had this man go along with him who was a regular — he’d been in the milling business for years. They looked it over. They decided that if it could be bought right and taken apart and moved up to the Wakeman there, that that might be a good thing. And when they went down there and looked it over Father decided to buy it. The belting, the family — the man had died who owned it and nobody wanted it, so the family gave him the belting. The mill was standing idle there. And it was just a few hundred dollars. Father said that the belting, that the mill was known as a roller mill and had a battery of rollers with the grain that the wheat would go through and I think there were six rollers in position in a parallel, or in a straight line. I know that Father wrote home that the belting alone in that mill was worth more than he paid for all the machinery and everything else. This man went with him and helped, guided him on the purchase of it. Father bought the mill outright. He took two men from Wakeman and they went, they went down and had it — all the machinery, the belting, everything pertaining that could be moved, which was taken out and loaded into a boxcar. They managed to get it into one boxcar and shipped the entire car to Wakeman. It was quite an undertaking but then Father had this one man who had been a millwright and he was an advanced age but he could still do a reasonable amount of work. He agreed to come and install the mill and put it in operation. It took — in the first place, the building had to be built to house the mill — a three-story addition to the end of our grain elevator. And he had to buy a new power plant. He got two 30-horse power gas engines which were made in Wisconsin for a company in Cleveland. I am unable to recall the name of the company but the gas was produced, was known as Producer Gas. There was a gas producer which would have anthracite small, or what was known as pea sized anthracite coal would be put into that and it was fired and that would be the gas from the heat from that, or the gas from that, went through a converter — it was what was called a cleaner. And then that was the fuel that the engines would use. It was a very elaborate set up there and a lot of headaches connected with it. But it got finally into working condition. My father operated the flour mill for a number of years before he sold the entire outfit there.

Unfortunately I do not have any pictures of this mill either. For someone so rich in family pictures I seem to lack the specific ones I need to illustrate my posts. However, I have found a great website that shows and explains how a roller mill works, so if you want to see for yourself go to this website.

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